Devotions on the RCL: Proper 19B

Quick reads. No in depth exegesis. No full-length sermons. Just the first impressions that I jot down before doing all that hard work. I share them because I like to read what others share. If you find it useful and care to follow then click the blue follow revsweat  link at the very bottom of the page. Selections for this week: Ephesians 5:15-20, John 6:53-59, Psalm 34:9-14.

A meditation on

Ephesians 5:(1-14)15-20

Eph. 5:16 “…making the most of the time, because the days are evil.”

Inspired by a Kierkegaard parable.

Our children are returning to school. They will encounter those exams where they are given an entire class period to complete the assignment. They will not be judged by how much of that time they use but by how many answers they get right. Whether they use the entire hour or only a few minutes, it will not affect the grade. It does not matter if one finishes early. Time is not the test.

After school these same children will return home. The parent may instruct them to entertain themselves for an hour while groceries are put away and the affairs of the house are put in order. If that child returns to the parent in fifteen minutes and says, “I am finished now. I have done an hour’s worth of entertaining myself in fifteen minutes,” then the child has failed the assignment. The assignment was to fill the time. Time is the test. Finishing early is not to finish at all.

Fellow Christian, finishing with life early is exactly not to finish at all. The temptation is real to say, “I have done my part, served my time. Let me lay down my cross for someone else to pick up.” But, the days are so evil and there is still time left. Don’t be foolish. Make use of the time.

Supplemental  Eph. 5:14

It is odd that the lectionary omits the preceding verses which include, “Sleeper Awake!”

I love the poetic power of the KJV, “Awake thou that sleepest! Arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” One of John Wesley’s early sermons is a dynamic exposition of this verse. This is revival preaching. These are altar call words.

The words are not directed toward the atheist or pagan, but to those whom Paul has earlier addressed as saints, faithful in Christ Jesus, and blessed with all spiritual blessings. The admonition is to the Church, or at least that part of the Church which Wesley often described as having the form of religion but denying its power. It is a call to start paying attention, quit acting like dead people, quit hanging out with dead people, and Jesus will show you The Way to really start living.

In 1849 President elect Zachary Taylor refused to take the oath of office on the prescribed day because it was a Sunday, and he refused to conduct business on a Sunday. Outgoing President James K Polk’s term had expired and amidst a series of complicated events not explicitly provided for in the Constitution a few of Senator David Atchison’s friends claimed the office fell to him for the 24 hours until Taylor took the oath.

What might you do if you were President for 24 hours? Even in 1849, you could write a letter to anyone in the world and be certain it was read; you could pardon people from crimes; you could give an order and armies would march. What would you do with 24 hours as President? According to legend, Atchison’s friends threw a party and David Atchison woke up late having slept through his entire term of office. *

Let us not be those who think we can celebrate the event of our Baptism and then sleep away our life until the Day of Resurrection. The from of religion comes with powers. The power to speak truth in love; the power to forgive crimes; the power to march into spiritual warfare; the power that will transform our life from what we were to what we were meant to be; the power to grow in virtue…in Charity; powers that we have yet to begin to comprehend.

Start paying attention, quit acting like dead people, quit hanging out with dead people, and Jesus will show you The Way to really start living.

“Awake thou that sleepest! Arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”

*It was a small but vocal party which made this claim of presidential succession at the time. Lest the preacher take the illustration too far it should be noted that while historians have some small disagreement as to who the president was (if anyone) for those 24 hours, they are in near total agreement it was not Atchison, and Atchison never acted on the claim.

 

A meditation on

John 6:53-59

This meditation lays aside Eucharistic association (because you haven’t got this far in John 6 without covering that, and because I am skeptical that John 6 is about Eucharist).

We are physical beings. We are spiritual beings. We are not first one and then, secondarily, the other. We have material needs. We have spiritual needs. Jesus identifies himself as the provider of our material needs and the source of our spiritual provision. There is a danger in relying on material things to satisfy our spiritual need. Another danger lies in believing that we must first attend to the material and then the spiritual. Jesus presents this as a false dichotomy. Take care of the one, and do not dare neglect the other.

Supplemental

If we come to the spiritual Bread already filled with spiritual junk food, then we will not come hungry.

If one has been preaching the Gospel pericope in recent Sundays then this is a good time to pause and make sure we covered the basics of John 6.  Jesus identifies his person as the source of life, the sustainer of life, and the protector of life. The invitation to life is in the recurring imperatives come, see, believe (6:1-52).

In this section Christ reveals that the natural self with its natural desires and natural reasoning cannot be called a living self…it is a dying self: “You have no life in you.”

The expected response to “come, see, believe,” is to “eat my flesh and drink my blood.” The disciple will then “abide in me and I in them.” Jesus offers to assimilate his being into ours. Jesus invites us on adventures in the Kingdom of God. It is fair to paraphrase the call as, “Come and live my life.”

It may be helpful to think of the eating less as Eucharistic terms but rather as eating with a holy hunger.  Think of a construction worker whose lunch truck is late with his chili cheese burger. Think of Medieval knights devouring a carcass of roast beast. Come with a hunger for righteousness, justice, virtue, and peace with God.

 

A meditation on

Psalm 34:9-14

“O fear the Lord, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want.”

One of things that the play Jesus Christ Superstar gets right is that it occasionally and subtly  presents Jesus as scary. Every character that has a close encounter with Jesus (from Mary Magdalene’s “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” to Caiaphas’ “This Jesus Must Die,”) makes the confession, “He scares me so.” Encountering Jesus brings with it the revelation that a choice must be made with consequences that are frightening. That is the beginning of wisdom. That is one of the ways we know it is God talking.

I do not preach the Psalms as much as they deserve. I chose this passage precisely because it is so desirous to avoid it. Sermons on this sort of Psalm can easily devolve into either twenty minutes on how what we just read does not say what it just said, or five minutes on how it really does say what it just said followed by a fifteen minute apology. We will gladly take the congregation on an arduous trek through the realm of theological dictionaries to avoid the concept of the fear of God.

 

 

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